With several trains departing daily from Warszawa Centralna, a trip to Poznań can be fast and smooth. Once in this cosmopolitan western city, the Stare Miasto (Old Town) is a brisk thirty minute walk from the train station. Cobble-stoned, with whimsically painted buildings surrounding the main square, the Old Town could have been the creation of a confectioner.
Cheap and Cheerful
Upon our arrival on Friday evening, we headed to Browaria, a three-star hotel/restaurant/pub supplied by the local brewery. There, we had a nightcap in the bar. The upstairs dinning room is not to be missed; with its tall windows, high-domed ceilings and huge brass containers, it has a museum-like character. If you are on a budget, there are plenty of milk bars and kebab places to choose from just off the Old Town Square, where you will be likely to run into a student having a quick bite before heading off to class. For a very affordable (read ‘cheap’) place to spend the night, try the Music School Dormitories, just off the Square. Be warned, however, that the place is a bit on the humble side, without frills or excess, and with communal bathroom and shower facilities.
Following the ‘student on a budget’ frugal trend, the three of us had breakfast at a milk bar the following morning, I suppose because my friend was determined to live the ‘student experience’ – at least for a day, as an expression of solidarity for his sister, a student at the Akademia Muzyczna. After breakfast, we headed for the Music Academy where a young woman was to give her Master’s Concert that morning. As guests of one of the students, we were allowed to wait in a narrow hallway, where even the plank wood floor creaked musically.
Sometime later, we followed the professors who would be grading the performance into a sort of ‘underground backstage’ below the music chamber. After climbing a very narrow winding staircase, we emerged onto a small stage, almost half of it occupied by a full-sized Steinway. In front of us, forty empty chairs faced the stage. Once everybody was settled, the pianist made his entrance, followed by the young violinist. Dressed in a strapless navyblue gown, she went and took her place next to the piano, to me looking unnaturally poised until she rubbed her hands on her long skirt before tucking the violin under her chin. For several moments she remained perfectly still, like a bird about to take flight, the milky gray light flooding in through the tall windows making her seem ethereal. Here was a musician at the top of her form, finally giving her Master’s performance after months of preparation. She played Bach, then Brahms’ Violin Concerto with impeccable technique, one moment stroking the violin delicately to coax the highest notes out of it, the next attacking it with unabashed passion. I believe I held my breath all throughout the performance.
Gourmet and Luxurious
After the magnificent concert and a stroll about town, we went to Restaurant Secesja for a gourmet dinner. There, I ordered the salmon in a pineapple-mango chutney; it was delicately seasoned and tasty, though a little bit dry, but the wine, a Sinai Gardens, was pleasantly surprising. My companion had the pork medallions in a red wine and peppercorn sauce and declared them to be delicious.
Several doors away, on the corner, is Hipokryzja, where one can order a glass of mulled wine in winter or a pitcher of sangria in the summer. The upstairs room is decadently decorated in deep red, with plush burgundy cushions plumped against the velvet seats, intricate iron work, exotic flowers, and candles flickering from sconces on the walls. Dessert, coffee, and a wide selection of teas are also offered, together with a variety of pancakes for breakfast.
For those of us unable to make do without creature comforts, the Hotel Vivaldi is the place to stay. Lush, with a breakfast buffet that includes hot dishes, and on-site masseur, creatures couldn’t be more comfortable. After a fully satisfying brunch, we headed for Stare Browary, the award-winning shopping center built into what used to be the city’s old brewery. Red brick and glass, with checkered floor and grand piano in the vestibule, state of the art elevators and intricate iron work, this place masterfully blends old-world charm with shopping convenience.
I shopped and window-shopped to my heart’s content, then treated my friend for a late afternoon lunch on the food court for carrying my packages. To my delight, this common area is furnished with real wooden tables and high-backed chairs, not the typical plastic furniture found in other food courts. And the dinnerware and flatware are also ‘real’, not plastic, which to me amounted to lots of brownie points for this place. I could see first-hand why this is an award-winning shopping mall..in a first-class, cultured Polish city.